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Favorite Edition 2016 Year Half

[Sturgill Simpson - A Sailor's Guide to Earth]

It’s half way through the year, and I’ve listed all but three of the new releases I own this year.

That’s 13 albums from 2016.

So while I can technically create a favorite 10 albums of the year so far, that doesn’t actually mean I feel very strongly about most of this list.

  • Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth: Simpson aimed to make this album his What’s Goin’ On, and he pretty much hits it.
  • Henryk Górecki, Symphony No. 4: Don’t expect a sequel to Górecki’s chart-topping Symphony No. 3. This work goes back to the modernist style he forged on his second symphony.
  • Colvin & Earle, Colvin & Earle This pairing is counterintuitive but kind of inevitable, and it works.
  • ANOHNI, HOPELESSNESS: ANOHNI trades in the chamber pop of Antony and the Johnsons for an aggressive electronic sound, something she’s already done before with Björk.
  • Santigold, 99 Cents: Santigold goes for a sunnier sound on this album, and while it may not be as fascinating as her previous albums, they’re tuneful as hell nonetheless.
  • Explosions in the Sky, The Wilderness: After the predictability of Take Care, Take Care, Take Care, The Wilderness is a definite zag to its predecessor’s zig. It’s probably the most adventurous Explosions album to date.
  • Ben Watt, Fever Dream: Watt builds upon the post-Everything but the Girl vibe of Hendra with a stronger set of songs.
  • Colin Stetson, Sorrow: A Reimagining of Górecki’s 3rd Symphony: I should hate the idea of a post-rock interpretation of Górecki’s Symphony No. 3, but I don’t. I like what Stetson does here.
  • UA, JaPo: Nope, UA hasn’t returned to her pop roots, but she does provide enough hooks to temper her more avant-garde tendencies.
  • Prince, HITnRUN Phase Two: Recommended if you like classic Prince.

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Looking ahead: July-August 2016

[Blood Orange - Freetown - Sound]

The Favorite Edition 2016 list will be published next week, and if it’s any indication, the release schedule for the rest of the year will probably not be terribly impressive.

James Blake, The Colour in Anything, July 1

Blake dropped this album many weeks back, and I’ve listened to it enough times to make me question whether I would really want to own a physical copy of it. Does it really need to have 17 tracks and be more than an hour long? A lot of interesting things happening on the album, and as many things that induce sleep.

YEN TOWN BAND, diverse journey, July 20

I wonder what prompted YEN TOWN BAND to reunite after 19 years. The band is actually fictional — CHARA played the role of Glico in the film Swallowtail, in which she led a group called YEN TOWN BAND. MONTAGE is probably one of my favorite CHARA-related albums.

Faith No More, We Care a Lot (Deluxe Edition), Aug. 19

I’m hoping a reissue of Introduce Yourself becomes an eventual reality.

Blood Orange, Freetown Sound, Aug. 19

I think Dev Hynes is responsible for softening my decades-long dim view of Michael Jackson.

Cocco, Adan Ballet, Aug. 24

Cocco has added stage and screen to her résumé as author and singer. So it’s no surprise the gaps between albums have gotten longer in the last few years. That makes Adan Ballet remarkable for coming out a year and 2 months since Plan C.

De La Soul, And the Anonymous Nobody, Aug. 26

I haven’t gotten through that backlog of De La Soul albums the trio offered for giving them my e-mail address.

Vinyl

Dead Can Dance, Dead Can Dance, July 8
Dead Can Dance, Spleen and Ideal, July 8
Dead Can Dance, Into the Labyrinth, July 8

I can haz Aion and Spiritchaser reissued on vinyl?

Madonna, Like a Prayer, July 12

Second-hand copies of the self-titled album, Like a Virgin and True Blue can be found for reasonable prices. Like a Prayer, on the other hand, is a bit harder to find, which makes it probably the only recent reissue worth getting.

XTC, Skylarking (Deluxe Edition), July 12
XTC, English Settlement (Deluxe Edition), July 12

Andy Partridge’s reissue label APE House is not messing around with these reissues, and the prices for them reflect that.

Sonic Youth, Murray Street, July 15

The release date for this reissue is a moving target. I imagine it will show up the next time I write this round-up.

Prince, Sign O the Times, Aug. 23
Prince, Lovesexy, Oct. 18
Prince, Graffiti Bridge, Nov. 22
Prince, Love Symbol Album, Dec. 13

I know I want to get the Love Symbol Album on vinyl. I’m partial to getting Lovesexy if I don’t find a used copy before then. I’m on the fence about Sign O the Times and Graffiti Bridge. And I’m disappointed The Black Album reissue was canceled.

John Zorn, Naked City, Aug. 26

I won’t tell you how much I spent on an original pressing of this album. So if you want it on vinyl, place your pre-order now!

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In pusuit of Prince

[Prince - Parade]

In the two years since writing about Purple Rain, my interest in Prince had actually grown so gradually, I scarcely noticed I had become a fan. His untimely death affected me a lot more than I anticipated.

I bought up a whole bunch of his albums after hearing the news, partly to get ahead of everyone else buying Prince albums after hearing the news. I didn’t do that for David Bowie, and Bowie had far more influence on my favorite artists than Prince. But through my brother, Prince had a definitive presence in the household of my family.

My first pivot from ambivalence to appreciation dates back to 2013, when I picked up a vinyl copy of The Family for $0.50. I made an offhand remark on Facebook that The Family was the album Prince should have released instead of Around the World in a Day, to which a friend replied, “WRONG!” I enjoyed The Family, and it made me wonder what it would have sounded like had Prince recorded it.

But in the interest of balance, I picked up Around the World in a Day. I heard it once in 1985 when my brother played it on the family stereo, and I decided it was one too many. Nearly three decades later, I could see how my friend could declare my opinion “WRONG!”, but I’m still hoping a future reissue campaign brings The Family back from obscurity.

The next pivot was The Black Album. I was browsing the “P” section of Sonic Boom’s used CD bins, looking for John Zorn’s Painkiller. Instead, I found a bootlegged copy of The Black Album. I picked it up, familiar with the mythology of the album. Back in 1994, I almost considered getting a copy of the album myself.

The bootleg turned out to be a decent if flawed transfer from vinyl, so I bought a used copy of the official pressing from Discogs. Critical consensus indicates The Black Album would have been groundbreaking had it been released in 1987 instead of 1994. Decades removed from that context, The Black Album is still an odd duck in Prince’s output, which probably lends its appeal for me.

In the days following Prince’s death, I filled the gaps in my collection between 1999 and The Love Symbol Album. I haven’t reached a point where I want to explore anything before or beyond that fertile period, with the exception of HITnRUN Phase Two. That’s more than enough music to keep me occupied for a while.

2016 has been pretty brutal for rock heroes, and I must confess an ambivalence for most of the figures who have shuffled off this mortal coil. But something broke with Prince. For many  years, I dismissed him out of habit because of a silly, sibling rivalry turf war. When I started to appreciate him, it was in a cool, intellectual way. I admired the craft that went into his albums, but I didn’t let myself love them the way long-time fans do.

That ambivalence finally melted into fondness, but it took his death to make that happen.

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My brother’s albums: Prince and the Revolution, Purple Rain

[Prince and the Revolution - Purple Rain]

Jurisdiction disputes in the Sibling Rivalry Collection Race at times precluded me from liking bands more suited to my tastes than my brother’s — Madonna and Depeche Mode spring to mind. But for the most part, my brother was more than welcome to some of his claims.

He dug Prince. I did not.

I liked a few of his singles, but in terms of overall output, I didn’t see the appeal. I appreciate Prince now, but I still wouldn’t consider myself a fan.

Oddly enough, I did become a fan of Wendy and Lisa. I’m not sure what drew my attention to them, aside from being featured so prominently in videos. (Or maybe I subconsciously picked up on the gay undertone of the pair.) When Prince broke up the Revolution, my brother continued to follow him, leaving me to take up the cause for Wendy and Lisa.

Parade is my favorite of the Prince and the Revolution albums. Sure, “Kiss” and “Mountains” are solid singles, but that psychedelic first side went beyond rock, funk, pop, whatever the hell else. It was thoroughly composed, no less structurally taut than a piece by Mozart or Beethoven. And for the longest time, I thought Parade was all I really needed from Prince.

As I got deeper into expanding my vinyl collection, I thought about those albums my brother had that I too wanted — Graceland by Paul Simon, … Nothing Like the Sun by Sting, Like a Virgin by Madonna. When I exhausted the overlap, I turned my attention to other parts of his collection.

I doubt I would pick up Out of the Cellar by Ratt, or any of his Toto albums. But Prince and the Revolution? Those albums where Wendy and Lisa had the most influence? I was willing to check them out.

The Revolution is credited on only three albums, starting with Purple Rain. The streaming services helped me to determine it was the better starting point in my limited exploration of Prince.

The nine-track album yielded five singles, which were played to death on the radio. At the time, I would have loved nothing more than to never hear those songs again. But after 30 years, their familiarity is comforting.

That left four tracks to explore. The introduction to “Computer Blue” is a running joke among some friends of mine, and it should be one among yours as well. “Baby I’m a Star” is a nice glue between “I Would Die 4 U” and the title track. And of course, without “Darling Nikki”, there would be no Parents Music Resource Council and the marketing coup-de-grace of the “Explicit Lyrics” marker.

Aside: I remember buying an album with an “Explicit Lyrics” label at the Fort Shafter Exchange, and the clerk carded me because the store wouldn’t sell those albums to anyone under 18. The majority of my music shopping had migrated to Tower Records by then, and they sure as hell didn’t care.

While I wasn’t a stranger to Purple Rain at the time of its release, I don’t find it surprising my appreciation for the album comes as late in my life as it has.

I wasn’t schooled enough in race relations in the United States to grasp the divide between “black music” and “white music”. I just knew I dug bands from England, and Prince was not from England.

Now that I’ve learned the history of rock ‘n’ roll, I see how Prince transcends that divide. He’s a bad enough motherfucker that those labels don’t fucking apply.

 

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